SINCE LAST year the District's infamous summer jobs program has gone through eight directors. That's right. The heads of the program come and go, arguing over how the program should be reorganized, who should have final authority and what accounts for its terrible past. That includes failures to get paychecks to the young people, to get enough jobs for them and to get them to do real work -- as distinct from make-work -- so that their summer experience has some value. In a recent survey of summer jobs programs in eight large cities, the District's program was cited as the worst on several counts. The report, done for the federal government, said Washington's program had the most poorly trained work-site supervisors. Those supervisors, the report continued, have the lowest regard for their young workers of any summer-work supervisors surveyed; District supervisors do not expect the youngsters to show up or do any work.
The report also showed that even if the only goal of the summer program were to put money into the hands of teen-agers, it was not doing the job. The typical District teen-ager in the program earned only $499 for the entire summer -- the lowest of the eight cities surveyed -- because the District's program was so badly organized that youngsters start work later in the summer than they do elsewhere. They also worked for the lowest hourly wages ($2.80) of any of the eight cities. The report said that while 75 percent of the youngsters in the District's program wanted some job counseling, only 23 percent received it; while 50 percent wanted some vocational training, only 19 percent got it; while 46 percent wanted some remedial education, only 10 percent received it; and while 55 percent wanted some job referral services, only 19 percent were so helped.
The dismal report matches the public observations of one of the past directors of the summer program. William Treanor, a former District school board member who ran the National Youth Work Alliance for six years, wrote that the summer program is a repeated failure here because of poor planning, specifically a poor system of recruiting employers and a poor system of signing up young people. Mr. Treanor says that this coming summer's program looks to be well on its way to failure: "Much of the opportunity to have an excellent program was lost due to planning and management paralysis during September, October and November of 1980. The summner plan [now] is not really that much different from the one that produced the memorable fiasco of 1980. . . . Some believe that simply meeting the payroll on time will convince the media and the community that the department has changed a sow's ear into a purse. . . ."
The jobs program of the two past summers was an embarrassment to the Barry administration. The mayor campaigned in 1978 on a platform that featured promises of a top-flight summer jobs effort. There is every political reason for the mayor to be aiming all available resources at transforming the summer jobs plan into a success. But despite those pressures, the program appears to be about to begin its third plunge into disappointment. Basic changes are required, although it's too late for some (recruiting should have taken place last fall). The first step to be taken is the identification employers, both public and private non-profit, that can offer a reasonably good job to a youngster. Those employers should compete (on the basis of the kind of work experience they can offer) for the chance to use summer jobs money to hire young people to work for them. The way things have been going, employers, instead, are trying to avoid involvement with the program at all.